Boulder County’s war on pot growing


In 2012, Boulder County electors voted 2 to 1 for legalizing recreational marijuana in Colorado. Amendment 64’s margin of victory in Boulder County was 11 percentage points higher than its margin of victory state-wide. But you would never know it by the way the Boulder County Commissioners responded.

Amendment 64 didn’t just legalize possession, use and sale of marijuana. It also legalized the production of marijuana — for both commercial purposes and private use. And it gave local governments the power to ban sales and commercial grows.

The usual way of producing marijuana is by, you know, growing it. In other words, marijuana production is an agricultural undertaking.

But Boulder County Commissioners Elise Jones, Deb Gardner and Cindy Dominico seem to have had a problem with the concept.

Shortly after the passage of Amendment 64, the Commissioners said, in so many words, “OMG! Marijuana! Why people could be growing it right here in Boulder County if we don’t do something!”

So they did something. They banned commercial marijuana grows in the County’s agricultural and forestry districts. The ban applied to both outdoor and indoor growing operations. This is a far more sweeping ban than the ban on growing GMO corn and sugar beets on county-owned open space, which amounts to about 25,000 acres. The pot ban applies to a couple hundred thousand acres of privately-owned land as well.

The reason the commissioners gave for having imposed the ban was that marijuana production isn’t really “agricultural.” Since marijuana is grown indoors under artificial light, its production is “industrial” and therefore has no place in the county’s agricultural areas.

The rationale is ludicrously dishonest. The fact that a crop is grown indoors under electric lights does not make growing it any more of an “industrial” activity than, say, milking cows in a barn with electrically powered milking machines makes dairy farming an industrial activity.

Moreover, there was a simple way to get the electric lights out of the process if that’s what troubled the commissioners: Allow marijuana to be grown outdoors in the agricultural zones, as is allowed in Colorado provided the grows are properly fenced. Such grows currently exist in Pueblo County.

Prohibitionist decisions like this often produce unexpected consequences, and the Commissioners’ crack-pot pot ban is no exception.

As a result of the ban, all the marijuana grown in Boulder County is grown in climate-controlled warehouses (heated or air-conditioned depending on the season) under artificial light — which makes the industry one of the largest consumers of (fossil fuel-generated) electricity in Boulder County. Heating the warehouses in the winter also makes the industry a major natural gas consumer.

The ban on marijuana grows in the agricultural zones has also created a severe shortage of warehouse space in both unincorporated Boulder County’s non-agricultural zoning districts and in Boulder County cities as well. As a result, the industry is looking for any available space in which to set up grows, including vacant homes. NIMBY eruptions against proposed grows in Niwot and Hygiene were a direct result of the ban.

The obvious place for marijuana grows in Boulder County is in the county’s agricultural zoning district. The crop could be grown outdoors in fenced fields, indoors in poll barns or, ideally, in greenhouses.

Ah yes, greenhouses. The same green-washed, busy-body Commissioners who are horrified by the prospect of marijuana operations on farms are equally horrified by the prospect of greenhouses on farms. The Boulder County Land Use department won’t approve greenhouses if they have modern amenities like electricity, heat or running water. The look so (ugh) industrial.

Growing pot, or for that matter any number of other crops, in greenhouses would allow for year-round operations, produce dramatic energy and water savings, reduce the use of pesticides and increase yields. In other words, it would make both marijuana production in particular and agriculture generally more sustainable — by almost any conceivable measure of sustainability.

Boulder County’s Commissioners, especially Jones and Gardner, seem to think of themselves as God’s gift to sustainability. But when it comes to marijuana they’re just green-washed nanny statists stuck on stupid.